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Minnesota Auditor Uncovers Flaws in Search for Top Cannabis Regulator

Following last September’s hiring debacle of Erin Dupre to head the Office of Cannabis Management, the Office of the Legislative Auditor was asked to audit the governor’s office’s hiring process.



It’s been a little over four months since Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) appointed little-known hemp store owner Erin Dupree to run the state’s new Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). The excitement over the new hire barely lasted 24 hours, as Dupree was forced to resign following an MPR News-APM Reports investigation, which uncovered Dupree’s hemp business, Loonacy Cannabis Co., allegedly selling hemp-derived products that exceeded state limits on THC potency. 


The investigation also discovered that she owed large sums to former business associates and employees and had amassed tens of thousands of dollars in federal tax liens.


In a statement following her resignation announcement, Dupree said, "I have never knowingly sold any non-compliant product, and when I became aware of them, I removed the products from inventory. Conducting lawful business has been an objective of my business career. However, it has become clear that I have become a distraction that would stand in the way of the important work that needs to be done."


"I have never knowingly sold any non-compliant product, and when I became aware of them, I removed the products from inventory. Conducting lawful business has been an objective of my business career. However, it has become clear that I have become a distraction that would stand in the way of the important work that needs to be done."

- Erin Dupree, Former Director of the MN Office of Cannabis Management


Immediately after Dupree’s resignation, Walz’s office made no formal comment. Instead, his office issued a written statement saying that the current interim director of the office, Charlene Briner, would stay in an acting role until the governor found a suitable replacement.


However, a week later, Governor Walz admitted that “we got this one wrong.” He also added that his administration would evaluate its hiring and vetting process to see what was missed.


In addition, several state lawmakers asked the Office of the Legislative Auditor to investigate the process to determine if a special review was warranted. Now, according to WCCO News (CBS) Minnesota, Judy Randall, the legislative auditor, has released a preliminary assessment of Walz’s appointment of Dupree to be director of the OCM. 


In her final report, Randall states the governor’s office strayed from standard operating procedures in "three important ways," all related to the initial background check. 


  1. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) predominantly conducted Dupree’s background check without the involvement of the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, which is a departure from standard procedures.

  2. Walz’s office sent Dupree’s signed release forms to the BCA, assuming the Bureau would work directly with the Department of Revenue. Yet, standard operating procedures require the documents to be sent directly to the revenue department.

  3. The BCA also incorrectly utilized financial background checks of the candidates "using information and systems separate from the Department of Revenue," resulting in the BCA not reviewing information gathered and maintained by the revenue department.


"The Office of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor departed from its Standard Operating Procedure for Executive Director Appointments in its process for selecting Erin DuPree as the Director of the Office of Cannabis Management. Three differences from the Standard Operating Procedure, in particular—all related to the background check—contributed to Governor Walz appointing Ms. DuPree as Director of the Office of Cannabis Management without having full and complete information,” the report signed by legislative auditor Judy Randall concluded. 


"The Office of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor departed from its Standard Operating Procedure for Executive Director Appointments in its process for selecting Erin DuPree as the Director of the Office of Cannabis Management. Three differences from the Standard Operating Procedure, in particular—all related to the background check—contributed to Governor Walz appointing Ms. DuPree as Director of the Office of Cannabis Management without having full and complete information."

- Judy Randall, Office of Legislative Auditor


However, despite those glaring mistakes by Governor Walz and his staff, Randall says the OLA will not pursue the matter further. “OLA considers this matter closed and will not conduct a special review,” Randall wrote.


Yet, the auditor’s office made some recommendations to the governor’s office to improve its overall background checking and hiring processes. Some of those recommendations include independent confirmation by the governor’s office that each background check has both individual and business tax information from the Department of Revenue, criminal history records, and outstanding court judgments.


Following the state auditor’s process review announcement, the governor’s office immediately reopened its search for a permanent director. It said it would use a professional Minnesota Management and Budget recruiter to conduct a national search. Governor Walz also formally appointed Charlene Briner as the official interim director of the OCM, which she has been running since last summer.


Hopefully, the second time will be the proverbial charm for Walz as he tries to successfully establish and solidify Minnesota’s adult-use cannabis market, which went into effect last August. The Dupree saga and subsequent delays to the overall process mean licensing may be further postponed. The delay means Minnesotans may have to wait till mid to late 2025 before the first retail dispensaries can go online. 


In the meantime, individuals can try to grow their own plants, visit one of a few Native American-owned and run tribal dispensaries, or find their closest hemp business to fill the void. There is very little room for error moving forward. 

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